National Security & Defense

Israel — Cleared but in the Dock

IDF paratroopers in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. (Photo: IDF/Flickr)
A panel of military experts clears Israel of trumped-up war-crimes charges.

The perversity of European attitudes toward, and treatment of, Israel were on ludicrous display in recent weeks. Almost simultaneously, a group of high-level retired military officers cleared Israel of the war-crimes charges thrown at it for the Gaza war of 2014 — and an Israeli officer was detained in Britain on exactly such war-crimes charges. The Jerusalem Post reported that

a retired IDF officer was detained for questioning in recent weeks upon landing in Britain on allegations that he was involved in war crimes during the Gaza war in the summer of 2014. The reserves officer was questioned for hours and was only released following Foreign Ministry intervention. . . . It is thought that the officer’s name was on a list prepared by pro-Palestinian groups naming IDF soldiers involved in alleged war crimes during Operation Protective Edge.

Meanwhile, the “High Level Military Group” or HLMG concluded exactly the opposite. Here is the final conclusion of its detailed 80-page report:

We can be categorically clear that Israel’s conduct in the 2014 Gaza Conflict met and in some respects exceeded the highest standards we set for our own nations’ militaries. It is our view that Israel fought an exemplary campaign, adequately conceived with appropriately limited objectives, and displaying both a very high level of operational capability as well as a total commitment to the Law of Armed Conflict. It did this under challenging circumstances on a formidably complex urban battlefield.

Who’s in the HLMG? People such as General Klaus Dieter Naumann, former chief of staff of the German Bundeswehr; General Vincenzo Camporini, former chief of the defense staff of Italy; Admiral José María Terán, former chief of the joint staff for Spain; Major General James Molan, former commander of the Australian Defence College; Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan; and Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, who served as ambassador at large for war-crimes issues in the U.S. government. Their report covers legal and operational issues, and as they put it, “Our purpose is to add a professional military and legal element to debates about warfare in the 21st century, which at times have been ill-informed and politicized, and which are of vital importance to our own armies and alliance partners.”

#share#The latter point should be a warning for Americans, whose forces are spread across the globe and do engage in combat. If an Israeli officer can be detained today on some trumped-up charge laid by a far-left political group, an American officer can face that risk tomorrow. And the completely unprofessional and unrealistic standards of conduct being imposed on Israel today can be imposed on our forces tomorrow as well. In fact, the HLMG worries that Israeli standards of conduct are too high:

Following our professional assessment of IDF conduct, several members of the HLMG expressed strong concerns that the actions and practices of the IDF to prevent collateral damage were so extensive, over and above the requirements of the Law of Armed Conflict, that they would curtail the effectiveness of our own militaries, were they to become constraining norms of warfare enacted in customary law.

So the work of the HLMG is welcome, and not just by Israel. “Israel’s experience carries important strategic, tactical and operational lessons for other democratic nations’ armies battling some of the most brutal and dangerous adversaries since the Second World War,” the HLMG notes. This won’t stop Palestinian extremists from calling every Israeli action against terror a war crime, but it should remind us that every ally in the war against jihadi terror should defend the Israeli record — or fall prey to media and NGO critiques and assaults that will make defense against terror nearly impossible.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow in Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former deputy national-security adviser.

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